the walnut-cracking machine

aunt nellie was a fitch from fingal
small like a wren is small
inside her she carried
an immense drawstring bag
crammed with small kindnesses
her husband ingersoll was well-read
a farmer with a butterfly collection
and a killing jar he kept on the kitchen counter
he was born and died in the same house
painted once as high as he could reach
without a ladder

late april snow covered the green grass
the morning i dropped in for tea
a vise-like creation sat on the kitchen table
somebody had been using it to crack walnuts
i tried it out a few times
while aunt nellie boiled water
fussed with a plate of cookies
uncle ingersoll called from the dining room
would you like to see the automatic nut cracker

he was using a walker so the trip
through the kitchen down the back porch steps
across the wet lawn took a good half hour
the walnut cracker had been out all winter
he kneeled
tinkered with it a few minutes
nellie yelled from the back door
it’ll never work

he reached for the switch 
plug it in he yelled to Nellie

i took a step back
alarmed that electricity was involved

it started up right away
people miles away that morning
in shedden or frome
planting peas or leaf lettuce
likely straightened their backs
turned their faces to the southwest

but when uncle ingersoll dumped
the pail of last fall’s walnuts
into the large funnel-shaped pipe
the trees the house the clouds
the planets and all their moons
collapsed under the weight of the din
all creation tumbled together down the pipe
and cracked in a rupturous clatter
i pressed the heels of my hands over my ears
and squeezed my eyes shut

the machine broke up the shells
spit them out one side
the meat of the walnuts dropped into
a small china bowl underneath

uncle ingersoll reached down
turned the machine off
the silence was a solid embraceable thing
i carried home
sometimes i take it out and hold it
and dream of someday making something
as loud and useful
as the walnut-cracking machine